04/02/2010

Collectively Conquering The Week Without Breaking A Sweat: PAX East 2010 Part 1

by Matthew Hawkins

In this post:
1. Part one of my PAX East wrap-up!

The above title, btw, is in reference to this Twitter post by Brandon Boyer. Anyhow…

We’re officially seven days away from the MoCCA Art Fest, and I was already woefully behind to begin with, before the trip to Boston. Which ended up kicking my ass far more than expected, but it also kicked more ass than anticipated as well, so it’s all good! In addition to finishing up the zine and attending to my normal duties (both of which I’m dropping the ball on big-time), been very busy on the Attract Mode front, plus something else just landed in my lap, something potentially BIG, but once again, that’s for another time and place (provided if things pan out). Regardless, too much stuff is going on as is, and to be completely frank, am currently in semi-panic mode. Though in the end, I’m sure it’ll all work out! I hope.

But back to Boston and last weekend; PAX East was simply amazing. Had an absolute blast, mostly cuz I got the chance to hang with Adam once again, who is seriously one of the coolest guys ever, period. He’s been an instrumental force behind my recent endeavors, especially the zine, and I’m flat-out privileged to have him as a business associate, and also a friend. Even if the show had been a total bust and Attract Mode had failed to make a splash, I still would have had an incredible time with the dude. Thankfully, neither of those were the case!

Though the entire weekend as a whole was filled to the brim with supremely awesome people, like everyone in 2 Player Productions and Capybara Games, along with those crazy kids that make up Anamanaguchi (too bad they broke up recently), who were also tons of fun to hang out with. Made many new friends and met countless cool folks in general, including a few I’ve been interacting with online for sometime now, like Radek, aka drozdal on the forums, so it was nice to finally chit-chat face to face. Then you had individuals that I’ve seen at various chiptune shows for seemingly forever, with PAX being an icebreaker at long last in that regard.

Before going any further, thanks to EVERYONE who stopped by the table and was nice enough pass along kind words about my zine and blog, it really means a lot! BTW, to that kid that really enjoyed my top ten list at the New York Anime Fest last year; glad you enjoyed it so much, though you’d be doing me a huge favor by sending an email to the organizers and letting them know how you feel! Since at this point, there’s no guarantees I’ll be invited back!

PAX East itself, while hardly perfect, was still the best attempt at a pure video game show the northeast has ever seen, without question. Obviously helping is how those behind the scenes actually understand the gaming audience, since they’ve been doing this for a number of years. Still, a few things confused me, and there’s always room for improvement. And despite having relatively few complaints overall, if I had to make a list…

1. The programming, for the most part, was extremely on the lame-side, at least on paper. For a fan convention, you expect stuff like top ten lists (such as from yours truly) or simply panels that are dedicated around a particular series/genre of gaming, for folks to discuss/argue about the plusses, the minuses, where it’s been, where it’s going, that kinda stuff. Instead, the topics were a bit too serious, almost GDC-ish. The problem was… and I hate to point fingers at my brethren, but… the organizers clearly approached press folks for programming suggestions, and they’re historically out of touch with their audience, plus way too self serving. It was also the reason why there were way too many game journalism panels (in the end, I think there was only three, which is already way too many, but it honestly felt like thirty), along with live recording session of podcasts. Whatever. Then again, the lighthearted panels are always hit or miss, though that has more to do with the people that usually get chosen. I was half afraid that those idiot Kingdom Heart fanatics who often run panels at shows, the one with the weirdly anti-homosexual agenda (simply do a search on this blog, you’ll eventually find out who I’m talking about) would make an appearance. Thank God they didn’t. Oh, and I really shouldn’t be mentioning this, since they totally don’t deserve any attention, but word on the grapevine says that they recently sought legal advice on the possibility of suing me for slander. For real.

Yet, despite any complaints I might have regarding the panels, each and every one was totally packed. To the point that you almost didn’t want to bother (which in my case, was precisely the case). In the end, waiting in long lines for boring discussions illustrates best how desperately starved for entertainment gamers are in these neck of the woods. But with those two primary complaints in mind, I ended up on the show floor and roaming the halls for entertainment elsewhere. And that brings me up to point number two!

2. My biggest beef, without a doubt, would have to have been the serious lack of cosplayers throughout the weekend. Since I’ve never been to PAX Prime, I have no idea how it compares, but given how gamer dorks love to populate the floors of the New York Comic Con/Anime Fest, and even ICON, it was a shocking surprise to say the least. Plus I had gotten a new camera for the show and everything!

3. The show floor was also somewhat lacking. Nintendo had a presence, but they only had a modest sized booth to pimp the just released Pokemon HeartGold & SoulSilver and the about to come out DS XL (which is just as ugly looking in the real world as it does in pics). I had heard Sony was going to show off the PlayStation Move (lulz), but neither saw nor heard a peep from them, unless only the coolest of the cool game journalists were invited. Which I most definitely am not. Not surprisingly, Microsoft had a huge area, which was a big hit with the kids. As for the big N and big S, I’m guessing that neither didn’t want to bother sending all their gear from Japan (whereas for the US based MS, it’s no big deal). The only reason why those Japanese companies don’t mind showing up at E3 is because, well, it’s E3, plus west coat then the east coast. Though given the tremendous outpour of attendees, some minds will be changed in time for next year.

Several third parties were on-hand, including Capcom, who showed off Super Stree Fighter 4 completely unannounced, and only for their Capcom Unity members, which is cool and all, but also kinda annoying. A number of smaller developers and publishers were present, primarily a nice contingency of indie folks from the Boston area, which was ultra rad. But again, just wished there could have been more. Actually, the space everyone was allotted was fairly cramped, so along with the panel spaces not being big enough, there was already talk about moving it elsewhere in Boston. Too bad it’s not in NYC (would be too expensive, I know), and that brings me to my final gripe.

4. This might be my stupidest complaint, and I know I come off as a total douchebag New Yorker, but I could give a rat’s ass: Boston sucks. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very pretty city, which is why I can’t understand why a place that is grumpy. Also, way too many white people. I also find it so odd that a place that is so geared towards young white college kids closes down so damn early. Though one thing that legitimately drove everyone nuts (at least those of us from out of town) was the dry air. By the end of day one, I had begun to wonder why I was developing such gross, chapped lips, and soon thereafter I discovered that everyone else was suffering as well. I know it’s such a silly thing to harp on, but trust me, it was a legit annoyance.

… With all those issues in mind, I ended up spending a lot of time behind the Attract Mode table. Thanks to the combination of our wonderful selection of items for sale (Adam and I were pimping items from the online catalogue, along with goods that have yet to be featured, like Life Meters #2 & 3, plus Kill Screen, which I believe made their debut anywhere at the show, as well as the previously mentioned Meat Bun tees, and 2 Player’s merchandise to round things out) and our location (which was right next to the entrance of the main theater, about a choice as one can hope for), we were always busy, and made quite a bit of coin if I don’t saying so myself! Sorry, but despite doing moderately well at comic shows over the years, my mind was blown by all the business that was had. Granted, some of our items were on the pricey side; a $2 mini pales in comparison to a $75 LSDJ cart, but still!

Here’s a pic of Adam and myself, holding up one of the Pac-Man oven mitts…

And a better look of the table, right at the very beginning….

… You can see some Life Meters to the upper right, which wouldn’t last very long! As well as the Tetris ice cube trays up front, which were also completely wiped out by the end of day two.

BTW, another reason for the belated report, aside from being ridiculously swamped with stuff, was me trying to figure out what to talk about where. I’ve actually been writing about PAX over at Heavy.com for the past couple of days, since that was who I was originally at the show for. But none of those posts have yet to appear, and that’s because of behind the scenes stuff; perhaps K Thor won’t mind me mentioning this, but the whole site is getting a massive (and much needed) facelift, with tons of added functionality being tossed in! Soon you’ll be able to search content according to author, as well as finally be able to leave a comment! So I’ve been adding stuff for the new site, and I’m guessing the aforementioned reports will visible very soon, once the switch is finally flipped.

In the meantime, here’s just a taste of what you’ll see, along with mostly personal interest stuff. Also… and I hate to say this…. apologizes for the crappy quality. I know, I had bragged about getting a new camera, one that I had assumed was finally up for the task at hand, mostly based upon Nullsleep’s beautiful tour pics from last year. They’re not as washed out and soft as the last Otakon set (oy vey), but awfully close, so needless to say, I’m more than a little disheartened and annoyed. But Jeremiah himself has encouraged me to hold on to the device, and actually read the instruction manual! Still, a few came out okay, like this close up some girl who bought some stuff and was sporting Ms. Pac-Man nails…

As everyone will eventually read elsewhere, Aksys Games had a booth featuring a number of neat thing,s like the new BlazBlue and Bit Trip Runner, which is closest to the camera…

… Though as I would also explain over at Heavy, not being able to hear the music basically made the game impossible to play properly. They also had the American version of Death Smiles…

… Check out dmauro trying to nab the highest score to win the grand prize, which was a Death Smiles faceplate for the 360…

… Note the look of intense concentration. Naturally he got the highest score, but not by a crazy wide margin as he had hoped. But that was just day one (you could only compete once a day).

But yeah, Dave was in Boston as well! He was on-hand to help Anamanaguchi handle their merch table. Here’s Dave with (former lead singer) Pete, hitting each other with “thunder sticks” as they’re called in Japan (I see them a lot at Japanese wrestling shows, and were even present at Dragon Gate a couple months back)…

The guys loved hitting each other with them. A lot

What’s a con report without cosplay pics? As stated, there were hardly at the show, and my obligations to Heavy (which actually helps to pay the bills) force me to save the bulk for that end, but here’s a few leftovers, like this guy as Spelunky…

Here’s Tina, dressed up a character from Fate/Stay Night. She’s not giving the finger, but our friend Joe Salina, who hasn’t done a good job staying in touch with her and being a bud. So this is her message to you Isfet! Give her a call sometime (and bring her over next time we play some games; since she cosplays, Tina’s obviously cool like that)…

And here we have Adam’s friend Abby. When she wasn’t one of the volunteers at the show, she was dressed as Yoshi!

I don’t think this guy dressed as Bowser was her buddy, just a guy she ran into…

One other thing I absolutely need to mention is how Abby and all the other volunteers at the show were so ultra helpful and top-notch overall. Not only did they lend a much need hand to Adam and I at the drop of the hat, but they were super helpful to the attendees in general, and a strong contrast to the lazy sh*ts that I encountered at ICON last year.

And speaking of, I suppose it?s worth mentioning that ICON 29 took place during the same weekend. And no lie; despite all the tension between myself and the folks who run that show, I still have a very soft spot in my heart for that place. In fact, if I had gotten the chance, I would have definitely made a return visit, albeit as an attendee only, mostly due to the fact that they returned to Stony Brook. But sorry, between ICON and PAX, there was simply no comparison. Though one of the many folks I yuked it up with, Steve Glicker, was actually less than impressed with PAX East and ended up heading to Long Island on day two. Dude even texted me to say how much he was enjoying the “Why People Suck” panel! I remember that one… five minutes of that topic, sandwiched between five minutes of “How To Make A Klingon Laugh” and five minutes of “Let’s Make Haikus Based Upon Babylon 5″ is what ICON is all about.

Back to PAX, there are basically two components to the show; during the day are the majority of the panels, as well as the show floor. And during the evening is when all the musical acts hit the stage, which was one big reason why Attract Mode did so well; we were one of the few vendors still in operation once it got dark. Here’s a look at Anamanaguchi’s custom NES via Thretris, which accompanies the custom Game Boy they had commissioned not too long ago

Here’s some shots of their performance for a very packed house…

Plus Pete making the big announcement

And here we are afterwards, with the band giving out autographs…

… Not to complain, but generally the guys are swamped by hot, NYU freshmen after a performance, but not so this time; instead they had legions of sweaty dudes, but they were still cool nonetheless. And afterwards, Adam and I were up till five in the morning, making posts on our respective blogs about the Scott Pilgrim video game news. Hey, when you’ve got legit breaking news, no rest for the weary! We each got up about three hours later to greet the day two crowds. Surprisingly, with so little rest, which often translates to a lower immune system, neither of us caught the nasty bug that everyone was worried about. That being some virus that caused simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea-ing. And speaking as someone that survived hardcore e. coli poisoning, it’s no picnic, that’s for damn sure!

Day two also heralded the arrival of some new goods, such as the aforementioned Little Sound DJ carts and these Loud Object devices from super talented Tristan Perich

From behind the table; I still found this guy’s shirt impressive, even if it’s from one of those lame-o wacky shirt sites…

This here is Dave gearing up for another shot at the Death Smiles gold. The problem was that it was a particular mode that he wasn’t used to, so here he is watching some superplays to help strategize…

And guess what? It totally worked…

Here’s a close up of the prize…

… Which Dave immediately put up on eBay. Last I checked, it was up to $150! But that was before the announcement that it’s going to be included in the limited edition package when the game launches, and for the ultra cheap price of $50. Yup Dave, you should have gone for a three day auction instead!

EDIT: Well, turns out that it’s actually a prototype and worth some potential dollar signs after-all!

For the record, I would have entered the competition if the prize was the “boobie pad” as the Aksys rep loved calling it, from Record of Agarest War’s special package (time to put money down on another pre-order I guess)…

Time for more cosplay. Hey. it’s Quote from Cave Story! What truly makes this particular get-up so spot-on is the Sega Saturn Virtua Light Gun, naturally…

Everyone was supposed to see the following at Heavy first, but since I have no idea when they’re going live; check out this ultra cute pair rocking the Wind Waker!

Semi-related; two female Tingles please…

Sticking with Nintendo for just one last bit, I really enjoyed this pair of Luigi and Daisy, if only for their slightly rustic appearance…

A most excellent Momohime from Muramasa…

And Bayonetta Twittering…

Here we have the console gaming room, which simply blows everything else I’ve ever seen out of the water, with the sole exception being Otakon. As silly as it sounds, this scene, more than anything else, proved to me that the organizers of PAX know what the hell they’re doing,..

Basically, you could play whatever the heck you wanted on any of the machines by “renting” out a game (which was achieved by simply forking over your ID)…

Here’s a look at the line of folks waiting for a game or open console, though note the helpers up front, sanitizing the controllers…

There was also a smaller room that was dedicated entirely to Steel Battalion!

Here we have a 5 on 5 match in session…

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for part two of my PAX East rundown!

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